The House of Representatives passed “The America COMPETES Act of 2022” in early February with a 222-210 vote, earmarking some $350 billion in funding for semiconductors, supply chains, and scientific research and innovation to compete with China. Most Republicans voted against the Act as they think it is too weak on China. In June 2021, the Senate passed a similar bill called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that allotted $250 billion in funding for similar causes. Many Americans welcome such long-overdue efforts to invest in our education, innovation and infrastructure so that the United States can stay competitive in the world.

However, the nearly 3,000-page America COMPETES Act includes a long list of motions addressing alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and heightened tensions over Taiwan. One is flummoxed by how and why squeezing such motions about China’s hardline policies into the Act would help advance America’s global competitiveness. 

The America COMPETES Act is not just about competing with China in scientific research, technology and supply chains, it also advocates confronting China in geopolitics, security and ideology. A significant proportion of the bill promotes closer ties with Taiwan, including supporting renaming the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington to the official-sounding “Taiwan Representative Office in the United States.” Congress does not seem to care how such moves, which violate Washington’s long-standing policy of maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan, may harm Taiwan due to expected vehement responses from Beijing. They care even less about the deteriorating U.S.-China relations.

Washington has yet to develop a viable strategy to deal with a more powerful and assertive China. Does the downward spiral of the bilateral relationship serve U.S. interests?  

Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenBucking the anti-China trend Top Democrats call on AT&T and Verizon to delay 5G rollouts near airports FAA: New manufacturing issue discovered in undelivered Boeing 787 Dreamliners MORE (D-Wash.) put it aptly: in a race, if a rival is gaining on you, you run faster, not try to trip them. Moderates such as Larsen, co-founder of the U.S.-China Working Group in Congress, are trying to salvage the bilateral relationship, distancing themselves from those who back punishing or decoupling from China. Larsen’s China White Paper outlines a 4-point framework, which recognizes areas of competition and conflict and expands America’s toolbox to compete with China while identifying areas where the two countries can cooperate and advising America to get its own house in order.

It takes courage and wisdom to buck the anti-China trend and do something positive to promote U.S.-China cooperation in the current toxic political atmosphere. 

As the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 moved towards a conference process, over 30 non-governmental organizations across America issued an open letter to congressional leaders in January 2022 to call on them to finalize a bill that responsibly manages tensions between the United States and China. These grassroots peace, environmental and women groups as well as think tanks urged members of Congress to ditch zero-sum mentality and develop more positive and cooperative policies towards China. Such balanced voices are weak but should not be ignored by our policymakers.  

A recent report published by the U.S. Heartland China Association, which is headed by former governor of Missouri Bob Holden, illustrates how the American heartland and China are interdependent. The report titled “Why China Matters to the Heartland” demonstrates, in colorful graphs and statistics, how a dynamic relationship with China has benefited each of the 21 states between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

When many members of Congress are beating the drums of war by proposing anti-China bills one after another, one wonders if these politicians understand what their constituents think and how a confrontational U.S.-China relationship may hurt their states and home districts. Do they know, for example, farmers in North Dakota want friendly relations with China since 70 percent of their soybeans are exported there? And do they know that exports to China helped support over 20,000 jobs in Indiana alone in 2019? 

Americans and Chinese share many common interests and are willing to work together. The U.S. Heartland China Association’s motto says it all: “Not all bridges are built of concrete and steel. Equally important bridges are built on friendship, cultural communion and commercial cooperation. Where these bridges exist, communities flourish.”

Due to the pandemic, no members of Congress have visited China since 2019 and normal exchanges between the two countries have sharply declined, contributing to growing negative views of each other among Americans and Chinese. It is high time that the two countries resumed exchanges at all levels and sought ways to peacefully manage the complex relationship. Above all, politicians in Washington must stop scapegoating China for their own incompetence to solve domestic problems while fanning anti-Asian racism in an already divided society.

Zhiqun Zhu is a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

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